Last month I presented my thoughts on the thoroughly stylish and exceedingly fun Katana Zero. Despite its numerous strengths, one of the standout elements of the game was its incredible soundtrack. Eager to learn more about the person behind it, I reached out to the one and only Bill Kiley to answer some questions about the project. Check out his answers below!
Thanks so much for taking the time to answer some questions for us! First off, because composers can often be part of so many games without us realizing it, share some of the other titles you’ve worked on prior to Katana Zero.
I’ve been lucky enough to work on some great projects! I made the OST for Final Fantasy XV: A King’s Tale for Square which was fun 16-bit era sounding game. Another Askiisoft project was Pause Ahead for Adult swim. I’ve also made the OST for indie darlings like The Valley Rule and A Kitty Dream and a handful of other things. I also got to write a chippy version of New Slang for use in a video from The Shins.
How did you get involved with Katana Zero?
I have been working with Askiisoft for years on a bunch of smaller projects. Katana ZERO is definitely the most ambitious project we’ve tackled so far.
What were some of your inspirations when it came to molding the Katana Zero soundtrack? Did you find yourself borrowing from the game’s aesthetic, or was there a vibe/feeling you wanted to recreate from another game or film?
I would get early screenshots and unfinished pieces of art to work from before writing. This would greatly help me get a feel for the mood of the area before trying to write some music that would compliment it. Outside of that I have a sick love of ridiculous 80’s action movies, so there were some vibes that I wanted to bring into the project if possible without falling over the edge into full-cheese mode.
What was the most challenging track for you to put together, and why?
Writing the music for the hidden boss fight was definitely a fun challenge. I called the track BOSS BOSS BOSS but it seems like some people are calling it Monster? It was interesting to compose a piece that remained synth heavy but also featured electric guitar and some pretty metal drums.
Which track means the most to you?
I would say Rain on Brick is probably my favorite. I tried to write something that would feel comfortable after multiple listens and signal a break from the crazy action. These quiet moments are important for the character and the player.
What’s a recent game that you played that had a killer soundtrack? Were you already familiar with the composer?
I think Kentucky Route Zero by Cardboard Computer features my favorite modern soundtrack. Ben Babbitt does such an incredible job of matching the vibe with the visuals in the most beautiful, complimentary way. Also, I’ve been replaying Inside by Playdead recently and I can’t express enough love for Martin Stig Andersen and SØS Gunver Ryberg’s work there. Outside of those, I usually listen to older game music like Earthbound or River City Ransom pretty nonstop. Don’t get me started on that old stuff. 🙂
Looking at the industry more broadly – where do you think video game composers have the biggest opportunity right now?
It’s exciting to watch the indie game world grow and see how many more opportunities there are for composers to try and get their stuff in front of people.
For those interested in going into this industry as a career, what advice would you offer? What’s something you wish you knew when you were starting out?
I got my start by going to as many game jams as I could. I lived about 3 hours from San Francisco and I would drive down as much as possible to meet other people that were into games. Something I wish I knew from day one would probably be how important networking is. Try to be on as many teams as possible! Like many composers, I would consider myself to be an introvert. Forcing myself to go to jams and actually meet other people in the industry was really worth doing even if it was against my nature.
Final question: what game are you picking up next?
I just got Baba is You on Switch and it is doing a fantastic job of making me feel like a dummy/genius at different times.